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Monday, January 30, 2012

In Defense of E Books

E books. A lot of people are wound up, some because of the possibilities provided by a weightless, almost production cost-free book format. Others are concerned about a host of other things: tactual, aesthetic, olfactory, financial etc. Jonathan Franzen makes a few points HERE along with some other excellent writers. I am 100% behind every single statement there (so please go read them!)

I love books. I surround myself with them daily, their very existence feeds my soul. I love their smell, the weight a shelf of them adds to a room, the sound of paper moving under my fingers, all magic. I’ve been a bookseller for seven years and I plan to be one for the rest of my life, regardless of the seeming irrationality of that career path in this day and age (thanks to e books, according to some). I own an e reader and I use it daily, unashamedly. Here’s why:

1) You can’t tear, liquid mark, crease or generally “mess up” an e reader. If you do, it’s a machine you can replace. It’s not your first printing, signed whatever. If I broke a $150 machine, I could live with that. Not so much if I “broke” my signed Peter Beagle first editions.

2) Some books get re-read to death so many times it’s the “green” thing to do to get an e copy. Maybe this doesn’t apply to those who shun epic fantasy, but the third time I replaced my entire set of Wheel of Time, I started to feel like a treekiller (sadly, only the Robert Jordan fans got that).

3) E readers are bus friendly. Turn them on, turn them off, flip pages without moving more than a finger...which is all you generally have room to move.

4) Your local library probably lends books for e readers. If your objection is feeding the companies that sell the e books just go borrow them! You don’t even have to go into the library to pick them up, and even better, no late fees!

5) It is possible to make purchasing choices that reflect your love of paper books. My policy is to only purchase e books I own already in paper form. I have both respect and love for the publishing industry and there is truly no substitute for a paper book. The books on my e reader represent my “trapped on a desert island” list of favorites. Like many e reader users, I’m looking forward to the day publishers start to offer digital copies with the purchase of the paper copy.

E books are clearly a technology with traction and the entire book industry will eventually have to adjust to include electronic media strategies in their business models, like it or not. As a bookseller I can tell you this is a scary idea. However, as a reader, I recognize that e books are a great tool for me to read more books, more often. And even the scared bookseller in me can see that what is good for readers is, ultimately, good for the world of books.

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